Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

The state of mental health in North Carolina continues to be a topic that Macon County Commissioners advocate for on a daily basis. Just last week, Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale led the charge with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Board of Directors to pass a resolution calling for reform of the state’s mental health system. In Western North Carolina on Tuesday morning, 47 mental health patients were being involuntarily committed sitting in Emergency Departments from Angel Medical Center to Memorial Mission. The patients range in age from seven to 84 and might sit in those emergency room beds for days before a mental health facility in the state has an available bed open to care for them.

Macon County Emergency Management Department is trying to take a proactive approach to addressing the increasing number of involuntary commitments in the community by seeking a grant to expand the county’s Community Care Paramedic (CCP) Program to care for patients with mental illnesses.

The county’s CCP program was started last spring and on average serves 20-30 patients who are dealing with chronic illnesses. Paramedics provide home care for patients, can draw blood, check blood pressure, and other care options for patients in order to prevent them from needing to visit the hospital. The program works with patients who have recently been discharged from the hospital to reduce the number of re-admitted patients within a 30-day period.

At Tuesday night’s Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting, Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe asked commissioners to approve a grant application that will allow the EMS department to expand the CCP program to include patients with mental illnesses. The application is for the Evergreen Foundation, based in Waynesville.

The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities or behavioral health and/or substance abuse needs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

The focus for funding allocated through the foundation is geared toward improving the lives of those who have Mental Health, Developmental Delay, or Substance Abuse issues. Grant priorities include: infrastructure to the private provider service network; start up and service provision grants; scholarships to enhance the quality of the provider network; public awareness/education; and advocacy on behalf of consumers and the provider network.

The Evergreen Foundation was formed in 1977 as a separate not-for-profit company by the Board of Smoky Mountain Mental Health. The purpose of the Foundation was to provide a place to hold funds that could later provide financial support of their mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services. In keeping with that purpose, the Foundation continues to provide this same support to the private service providers now responsible for all of the behavioral health, intellectual/developmental disability and substance abuse services in the seven western counties of North Carolina.

Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the application for the $34,499.28 grant to be used to expand the CCP program. The grant would include $14,041.56 to pay for one additional full-time, eight-hour a day employee to work the program. The grant also covers the cost of vehicle expenses and mileage to run the program. With the additional employee, vehicle expenses and other cost, the total amount it would cost Macon County EMS to expand the program from the already operating three days a week to a full five days, it would cost $24,499. The remaining $10,000 of the grant would be for education and specialized training through the N.C. office of EMS Community Paramedicine/Mobile Integrated Healthcare curriculum as well as Smoky Mountain LME/MCO Crisis Intervention team training for all critical care paramedics and supervisors.

The grant application has been forwarded to the Evergreen Foundation, and if granted, the CCP program will immediately began working on expansion.